A STORY BY AUDIENCE MEMBER, OSCAR CRAWFORD
A story by Oscar Crawford, audience member, Dame Myra Hess Concerts
It was as if she simply waved her hands above the keyboard and the piano spoke.
Well, it began–let’s see around 1940, when I first started studying the piano and listened to recordings by Dame Myra Hess—though at that time, she was just Myra Hess—on the local Youngstown Ohio radio station. She was an inspiration from the very first time I heard her.
Then, the war finally ended, and Dame Myra Hess –she was a Dame now—came to the US and performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra. We all gathered in my piano teacher’s studio to listen to a program which included Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto. The audience in Philadelphia must have been phenomenal—they gave her a standing ovation before the performance and as we all listened enrapt I thought: “I must hear her!”
By the way that was the first time I heard about her work during the war in London, presenting free concerts. I fell in love with her artistry and only learned about her courage as the announcer from Philadelphia told that story.
Now, to the Chicago story. I must have been a freshman in college when I learned she was going to perform in Chicago, at Orchestra Hall, and I decided I just had to go. I saved my nickels and dimes for months for the money I’d need for the train and lodging and seats in the balcony.
In Chicago, in the spring of 1952 Dame Myra Hess performed three concerti each day for three days. Then on Sunday she performed a solo recital. I had money enough for the three concerti performances—which were wonderful of course—but then Sunday came! When I went down to buy a ticket for Sunday, the only seat left in the entire auditorium was a box seat. I couldn’t believe it I almost collapsed. I thought: “I won’t have money to go home if I buy this ticket.” Faced with this dilemma, I finally decided: “Well I’ve come all this way and I’m NOT going home until I hear this concert.” So I bought the ticket.
The program featured sonatas by Schubert, Brahms and Beethoven—and it was a most impressive and transcendent performance. I left behind all sense of reality and was completely transported—a truly transforming experience.
The next day reality set in. “Now I have to get home” I thought. I called my father, and asked him to wire me $10. Through his generosity and some help along the way from my brother in Detroit, I made it home.
All through my artistic life, Dame Myra Hess represented an ideal for me. I organized a concert series in her honor in Cleveland, which continued for five or six years.
And then I moved to Chicago in 2006. A friend of mine—a former student—invited me out with a mysterious invitation—“I have a surprise for you” he said. We took the train into the city, went to the Cultural Center, and walked up the stairs to Preston Bradley Hall. That’s when I saw the banners for the Dame Myra Hess Concert Series. I turned to my friend in surprise and asked him “What do you know about Myra Hess?” “I remember you talking about her when you taught me—your experience of being completely transported during the concert in Chicago.” Well, I was just bowled over that he had remembered that.
All my life as a pianist and teacher, she has been a guiding force. I’ll never forget that experience of hearing her live in Chicago. It was as if she simply waved her hands above the keyboard and the piano spoke.